Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kolkata : Need for a Future

I had a good last few days, finishing work that I needed to do and bringing back a semblance of order in life. This is not to say everything is absolutely cool - I must travel to Dubai and Manila by next week and I still don't have my passports back - but at least, I am no longer in the sad state that I was a week back. This allows me to take a bit of a break, if only for a few minutes, and enjoy this rainy afternoon in London. Funny that I say that, but it is actually raining after quite a gap, and giving us a break from the hot spell that we had for last two weeks.



So, tea, rains outside and a break! How Bengali does that sound? Though I don't smoke, I am as Bengali as one gets. And, indeed, proud to be one. I keep it no secret, and proclaim my love for Calcutta quite publicly. Yes, indeed, my dreams are to go back to Calcutta - whenever I can - and live there.


When I say this, my well-wishers here, most of them from Calcutta themselves, suggest that I should never think about that. There is no future, they say. You can't live there anymore, many warned - and I seem to agree. Ramrajatala, the little village in the suburbs that I come from, sounds like backwater, still, decaying, frozen in the past. Shall I not miss the hustle and bustle of London? Certainly. Shall I not miss the meet-the-world feel of Oxford Circus? Yes. I change the subject at this point. I say, I wouldn't live there, but I shall sure want to die there. This kills the buzz - it is too far to see, too sentimental to discuss and too hard to refute.


When I talk about this in India, I get a different feel. My Bengali friends in Mumbai and Delhi tell me to go back to India. This is going to be a developed country in 30 years and opportunities are all here, they say. Some suggest that Britain will be backwater in that time. I am not sure, but they have a point. I say, yes, I am planning to refurbish my house in Calcutta and I would come back - may be in three years. Silence. Then the message becomes the same - look beyond Calcutta, there is no future there. See what India has become in the last ten years, imagine what it will become in the next ten. Don't be a Bengali - see the opportunity! I change the subject at this point. Say that I love Oxford Street - it is so much like United Nations. The discussion shifts back to Britain, Cricket and Chicken Tikka Masala.


I read Ananda Bazar Patrika every day. This is a daily ritual of Bengalis all over the world [now that web allows it] - a gossipy tabloid of a newspaper which reflects the Bengali way of life. Which is all about making mountain out of molehill! The world affairs only make a news item if something bizarre has happened. There is sports reporting, but mostly about what may have happened in Dressing rooms than on the ground. Hardly any business news, though the rifts of Ambani brothers was well reported. But the newspaper still carries a lot of stories - of bizarre events, speculative gossips, celebrity idiosyncrasies. I love the pointlessness of the newspaper, it reminds me so much about Calcutta.


Of course, I am joking. But I know the pain of all my friends living in Britain or in Mumbai. They would all love to go back to Calcutta if they could. They miss this as much as I do. They all read Ananda Bazar every day, call home every Sunday, keep tab of Puja dates and wear new dresses on the Bengali New Year day. But they can't go back - Calcutta is so pointless, it offers them no opportunity.


I did say to someone that people create opportunities. You and I will have to create opportunites. We can't sit on our hands and complain. We can't criticize everything that's wrong, and do nothing ourselves. But I forget - they tried. Everyone living here have tried hard, made sacrifices, to make it work. It did not work - and they ran away from the post-industrial wasteland. They have made it here. They can't go back and try again - it is only one lifetime to live and you can't take the same chance again.

I read in Anandabazar Patrika that the opposition leader in Calcutta is trying hard to close an upcoming automobile factory near the city. I know the ruling party in Calcutta had tried its bit to stop the Indo-US nuclear deal. I know unemployment is high in Calcutta. I know we have severe power problems. I know it is pointless to talk reason. I know it is all about that pointless anger towards the past and pointless action in the present. I acknowledge there isn't any future.

But that's the point. Calcutta needs to have a future. National boundaries distort our perspective. Look another way, Calcutta is the hub, the centre of the World's poorest region. Cities are always fascinating. It is the dream that many people live for. Calcutta, that way, has the responsibility to give the dream to the world's largest population of the poor, the dispossessed, the illiterate. It must find its future.


I am a dreamer. Dreaming is great - it gives you many lifetimes to live. I see Calcutta finding its future. I see Calcutta as not in the colonial city, the second city of the British empire. I see Calcutta beyond its Socio-comic interregnum of today - a period when ideology bred lethargy and opposition became irresponsible. I see Calcutta as hope, for millions of people of Bengal, Bangladesh, Bihar, Orissa, Indian Northeast, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, a city of democracy, liberalism and progress. I see Calcutta changing - making its past failures pay for it - a city with energy and enterprise.

I must state that I am not drunk. In fact, I have given up Alcohol months ago. I dream, but I know all of this is possible. But I have taken too long a break from work today, and must come back to this discussion tomorrow to say how I see this can happen.

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